|Reason for hearing
1) Rule 4.18 Illegal Conduct on July 13, 2014: Live entertainment (dancing) without Board approval.
2) Rule 3.02 Cooperation on July 13, 2014: Inspector observed bartender using buzzer as warning for Police/Inspector entering facility.
3) Rule 4.18 Illegal Conduct on January 26, 2014: Drug sales on the premises of the establishment.
4) Rule 4.01(a) Minors on December 12, 2013: Alcohol sold to an underage police cadet. Violation of Rule 4.18 Illegal Conduct on December 7, 2013: Licensee stated to police officer that he allowed the promoter to bring his own alcoholic beverages.
5) Rule 4.16 Narcotic Drugs on December 7, 2013: Patron was disoriented and screaming to police and her boyfriend that she had consumed drugs that were purchased inside Punta G.
6) Rule 4.18 Illegal Conduct on December 7, 2013: Used portion of the building (roof) not approved by the Board.
7) Rule 3.06 Sanitation and Safety on December 7, 2013: Establishment over capacity.
8) Rule 4.02 Inebriates and Drug Addicts on November 23, 2013: Over serving patrons; police observed patrons exiting establishment highly intoxicated.
9) Rule 3.12 Public Welfare on November 23, 2013: Large intoxicated crowd exited establishment and disturbed the peace and quiet of the neighborhood.
Mr. Melvin Kodenski represented the licensee, Luis George, and his father, Luis George, Sr.
At the beginning of the hearing, Executive Secretary Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth announced that the November 2013 charges would be dropped, because they actually were charges against another establishment and were included in this docket by mistake.
Rule 4.01(a); December 12, 2013:The Chairman began with the Rule 4.01(a) charge for alcohol sold to an underage police cadet. Baltimore City Police Detective LC Greenhill testified that on December 12, 2013, at 11:45pm, Police Cadet Phillip Jones was served an alcoholic beverage at Punta G. Cadet Jones was present but did not testify. Kodenski did not admit guilt on behalf of his clients but told the Board that the management has instructed all employees to check all IDs and will “have people take the alcohol awareness course.”
July 13, 2014: Inspector Tom Karanikolis testified that he went to Punta G with fellow inspector Michael Hyde and Officer Todd Brown. Karanikolis walked into the bar first, on his own, leaving Inspector Hyde in the squad car with the officer. When he entered, Karanikolis saw a DJ speaking into a microphone and people dancing inside the establishment, though the bar does not have Liquor Board permission for live entertainment. After around five minutes, a buzzer sounded, and the patrons stopped dancing immediately; “everyone was like a statue” and “looking towards the door.” Inspector Hyde and Officer Brown (who was in his police uniform) came through the door seconds later. Karanikolis wasn’t sure who had pressed the buzzer. Kodenski cross-examined Karanikolis about whether the crowd was unruly or disorderly. The inspector replied that they were not. Inspector Hyde testified briefly to corroborate Karanikolis’s story. Police Lieutenant William Colburn explained that it had become apparent to the police that there was a system in place to alert the patrons when the officers arrived. On multiple occasions, he had entered the bar to see “dozens of people standing on the dance floor all staring at [him].”
[During the hearing, all police testimony was presented first, for all violations; the licensee then responded to all violations. For the purposes of this post, the licensee's testimony will come directly after the police testimony for each violation.] Licensee Luis George (Jr.) testified that he does not have a buzzer installed on his property. Kodenski asked, “do you have anything that makes a sound?” The licensee responded that he has a smoke detector. Commissioner Moore asked Luis George, Sr. whether the smoke detector makes a buzzing sound, and George replied that it does. Moore asked what would have caused it to buzz on July 13, 2013. George replied that he often hears it buzz. Moore asked, “it was just coincidental?” George said, “perhaps.” Moore said, “you understand how that might sound kind of odd?” George replied that he did understand that.
January 26: As the police officers began their testimony about the events of January 26, 2014, Mr. Kodenski was rustling his papers near the microphone, which was interfering with the court reporter’s recording. The court reporter asked Kodenski to stop, but Kodenski did not hear him. Commissioner Moore explained to Kodenski what the court reporter had asked, joking, “pretend the buzzer has gone off. Be still.” Police Officer Israel Villodas testified that the police had received information that an individual inside Punta G was conducting illegal sales of narcotics. The police had received a description of his clothing and information that he was selling $100 bags of powdered cocaine. At 12:30 in the morning, Villodas walked into Punta G and saw the individual, whose name is Hugo Lopez. Villodas saw Lopez place a large package inside his pocket, wrapped in a napkin. Villodas asked Lopez if he had illegal narcotics on his person. Lopez gave his consent to a search of his person. Inside Lopez’s front right pocket, Villodas found 20 plastic bags, each with 1 gram of powdered cocaine inside, which each had a value of around $100. Villodas also found $1,181 in US currency in Lopez’s pocket. Villodas provided the lab report that showed that the powdered substance was tested by the police lab and found to be cocaine. Kodenski then asked questions of Mr. Villodas. Kodenski asked whether Villodas had seen any drug transaction, and Villodas responded that he had not. Kodenski then asked the result of the charges. Villodas said that Lopez had been deported. Police Officer Catherine Dulaney testified that she had submitted the drugs to the lab and had them analyzed.
December 7, 2013: Police Officer Todd Brown testified that he was patrolling in a marked police car and observed a young woman lying in the street, one block from Punta G, at the corner of N. Highland Avenue and Esther Place. Her name was Ms. Gray, and her boyfriend, who was with her, said that they were just at Punta G. He told Brown that an unidentified male was selling a narcotic in the club, which they believed to be ecstasy. Ms. Gray was screaming incoherently, which Brown believed was due to having a reaction to the drug she had taken. Kodenski objected to Brown’s testimony on this, because he had not seen Ms. Gray take any narcotic, and he could not know for sure what was causing her reaction. Chairman Ward then asked Brown about his experience with and knowledge of narcotic drugs. Brown said that he had undergone 40 hours of training in narcotics and has made 40-50 arrests for narcotics related crimes. He has some kind of experience with narcotics about every other day. Kodenski asked whether Brown had ever seen someone having a seizure or epileptic fit and whether it looks similar to having a reaction to a drug. Brown said that it could be a similar-looking reaction. Commissioner Moore noted that the young woman in the street was born in 1995, which made her 17 years old. Moore asked whether screaming and making noise was consistent with someone having a seizure, and Brown replied that it was not, in his experience. Kodenski said, “when someone’s possessed, they scream and holler. Have you ever seen anyone possessed?” Brown replied, “no, sir.” Brown continued with his testimony: a medic was dispatched to treat Ms. Gray and another police officer followed her and the ambulance to Johns Hopkins hospital. Brown went to Punta G to do a business check. When he arrived, there were 15-20 patrons exiting the side door. On the second floor of the establishment, there were 250 to 300 people jam-packed inside; the capacity for that floor was 140 persons, according to the fire marshall. There was a heavy aroma of burning marijuana. Kodenski objected to this description, saying “there are other things that smell like burning marijuana.” Brown replied, “no, sir.” Brown also saw that an exit was blocked with tables and chairs, and the staircase was not well-lit. Asked to give his opinion about the safety of the second floor, Brown said that if there had been an emergency on the second floor, “in [his] opinion, [the patrons] would have been trapped.” There were several patrons, who were possibly underage, who dropped their drinks and headed for the exit as soon as they saw Officer Brown. Brown went onto the roof, and there were numerous patrons there, smoking and consuming alcohol. Brown met Mr. George, the licensee, at this point. He told George that his license does not allow alcohol on the second floor. The license says that the second floor is for use as a meeting hall. George told Brown that he did not provide any alcohol for the second floor; an event promoter had brought his own alcohol. Kodenski cross-examined Brown about whether there was anything wrong on the first floor. Brown said that he didn’t really look around on the first floor, except to check the license. Brown also did not know the name of the promoter on the second floor. Kodenski asked whether the fire department was called. Brown said no, that he was concerned more with the safety of the patrons. He tried to calm everyone down and get them out of the second floor safely.
Luis George testified that he never allows or permits the sale of drugs and has security personnel to watch for illegal activity.s
Mr. Matthew Gonter testified on behalf of the Patterson Park Neighborhood Association (PPNA). He said that Mr. George signed a Memorandum of Understanding with PPNA in October 2012. Since then, he has blatantly violated live entertainment provisions several times. Gonter submitted citations from the Baltimore City Environmental Control Board for live entertainment wihtout a permit. Kodenski objected, saying that there was no testimony to authenticate Mr. Gonter’s submissions, since there was nobody from Baltimore City government to testify about the citations. Chairman Ward overruled the objection, saying that the Liquor Board is a “community board.” Kodenski argued that the Board has to be empowered by the state of Maryland; it can’t be one-sided, and it has to be for all citizens.
Kodenski closed by summarizing his already-stated arguments on each of the charges against the licensee. He pointed out that there was a “double charge” for one incident saying that the Liquor Board was using the “Ray Rice Routine.” “How many times can you punish someone for the same incident?” Kodenski asked. There was some confusion among the Commissioners about what it means that the license says that the second floor can be used as a “meeting hall.” Kodenski argued that the licensee can use the second floor as an extension of his bar, because it wouldn’t be listed on the license at all if the licensee weren’t permitted to use it to sell alcohol. Kodenski also argued that the fire department is the entity that regulates capacity, not the police department. Ward asked, “where did you get the idea that the police department and the fire department split up the capacity issues?” Kodenski explained that there had been an incident of overcrowding at the M&T Bank Stadium where the fire department and the police department had had a disagreement about capacity.